A Break in Berlin

Trip Start May 07, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Friday, July 29, 2005

2005-07-29 Berlin
(Dave)

This update is very late and doesnīt have pictures. Our laptop broke and we lost all of the Berlin photos and the draft of this. For more details see the next entry (Prague).

The train to Berlin was a bit annoying. It was the first time we had reserved seats but our car was full of screaming children and teenagers kicking our seats. I think if we hadnīt reserved seats we might not have gotten to sit together but I wonder if they clump reserved seats together. The noise wasnīt too bad and we had earplugs in any case. The other problem was that we didnīt know where to get off the train. The stop was named something like Berlin Zoo and it looked very small. It turns out that there are two main stations in Berlin (and they are working on a third) and the Zoo is the smaller one.

We were renting an apartment for three weeks and we thought it was near the station so we started to walk. Usually we pick up a map from the tourist office but we couldnīt find the tourist office so we started to walk aimlessly. After half an hour in the heat we got a map from a car rental place (note to travellers: car rental shops have free local maps, though they might scowl at you). We couldnīt find our apartment on the map so we stopped a bicycle rickshaw and asked how far. It was too far to walk and even too far for the rickshaw driver to take us (after he spied our packs). He suggested taking the bus. For some reason we just hopped on the next bus we saw and planned to get off when we recognized our neighborhood. We didnīt stop to think that we had never been to Berlin and would never recognize our neighborhood. Eventually we got off the bus, found the subway, and followed the directions we had. Incidentally, the bus we happened to get on is a very popular sightseeing bus.

We met a friend of the person from whom we were subletting and he gave us a key and showed us around. The apartment was nice but on the fourth floor (in the heat with packs).

We spent the first few days settling in. We gave the apartment a good cleaning (the previous subletters didnīt clean well). We moved furniture around. We hung clothes on hangars for a change. My proudest achievement was to purchase two bicycles from different people. We found them in a second-hand advertisement newspaper all in German and neither of the sellers spoke English.

Finding an Internet connection was a high priority. For the first week we were able to pirate some WiFi from a neighbor. Eventually it stopped working (I think they needed to reboot the router). Then we searched all over for a connection. We found lots of secured routers but eventually pirated some at a nice spot in a park along a canal with swans, bikers, and dog walkers. We also found a spot near the apartment that wasnīt good for long sessions but was fine for checking email. We also had a good time at the local Internet café (more on that later). Our favorite spot for free Internet was the Sony Center. It is sort of an indoor/outdoor mall with a few shops, a movie theater, and a lot of eateries. They also provide free WiFi.

We decided to do some reading. The local used book store had The DaVinci Code which we read. We found another used book store that was supposed to have a large English section. Sure enough, it was run by a Scotsman and was all English. The owner was quite a character. He ran the store in his pajamas and was probably stoned at all times. We arenīt sure how he made money. He told us that he didnīt really like to sell books and 20% of the books were for borrowing and not selling. You could bring any book back and he would give your money back, minus €1. I asked if he had any Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman. He told me he didnīt think so. Eventually I found some and pointed them out. He said that the books on that shelf were just for reading and not for sale or borrowing. I asked where he kept thrillers (the best sellers in most used book stores). He pointed to a closed door that, in addition to thrillers, housed his bedroom. On Friday night he hosts movie night. Anyone is invited but really everyone knows each other. He cooks a gourmet meal (well, as gourmet as British food can be) and charges €5 for dinner, a beer, frozen cream puffs for dessert, a movie, and a marijuana brownie or two (actually those might have cost exrta but we didnīt partake). We met a lot of interesting people, all English speakers.

One night we went to a Turkish bath. Iīll let Kim write about that.

I read three books (two Dan Brown and one John Grisham). We saw three movies. One was so unmemorable that we have forgotten it. The other two were part of some sort of fantasy film festival. The good one was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starring Robert Downing Jr. and Val Kilmer. The bad one was Primer which was made for $7,000. It was an interesting time travel story but it was too hard to follow the plot. The science was better than most time travel movies but I wouldnīt recommend it unless you are the type of person who likes movies that are different just because they are different. Be prepared to watch it two or more times or be frustrated. Seriously, the last third of the movie just plain doesnīt make sense.

We did a lot of cooking but we also had a lot of meals from the little Turkish take-away places called Doner Kebap. And there was a place with carry-out pizza for €2. On Fridays our neighborhood had a famous market which very much appealed to the shopper in me.

During our last week in Berlin we realized we hadnīt done very much sightseeing so we bought a three-day museum pass. We went to the Pergamon museum twice. It has an amazing temple to Athena or Zeus. Along the ourside wall is a huge bas relief of gods fighting giants. My favorite was Aphrodite pulling her spear from a recently slain giant. Maybe she was the goddess of love but apparently she could also kick some butt. The museum also had a huge section of Greek and Roman statues. Apparently most Greek statues were made of bronze. In Roman times it was fashionable to have Greek statues so they were copies made in marble. As time went on bronze became very valuable and the Greek statues were melted so we only have the Roman copies today. Itīs very impressive to look at a 2000 year old statue and know that it is just a copy. The other impressive exhibit was the gate into Babylon and much Babylonian statues and architecture. It was a great museum and worth the price of admission for just the first room. We went to the Egyptian museum but were in a hurry so just saw the famous bust of Neferini. We also saw a museum which had a boring display of WW2 memorabilia. Things like a soldier boot and shrapnel froma grenade. It also had a very interesting section on ancient Jewish history that we didnīt have enough time to see very closely.

On our last day in Berlin we talked with the manager of the Internet café and was interested in buying some things we had acquired. We sold him both bikes, two cameras (that we had replaced in Cologne) and our cell phone.We took a slight loss on all items but I think we did very well. The two bikes were sold for €20 less than we paid, but it would have been about €150 to rent two bikes for three weeks so we were happy.
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